December 17, 2012

Defensive Strategies Always Controversial

Neutral zone traps. Clutching, grabbing and other obstruction. Line matching and shadows.

These are forms of the modern defensive game that drawn the ire of hockey pundits and hockey fans over the years.

But complaining about defensive strategies clogging up the fastest game on ice is nothing new. Check out this 1932 article from the Calgary Daily Herald. Not only does author Jimmy Thompson pay homage to the early defensive forwards of hockey, but he argues their style of hockey should become extinct:

Not only are the real masters of the hookcheck passing from hockey but there are some critics who think that it should be abolished altogether from the game. While it may be one of the most devastating weapons for breaking up scoring plays yet, in the opinion of one writer, "it contributes to much centre-ice play which is far from entertaining for the spectator."

The point seems to be that long arms and longer sticks, rather than hockey intelligence and ability, are requisites for its success. Don't confuse the poke check with the hook check. The poke-check can be used effectively only against the puck carrier. The ice-sweeping hook check, first mastered by Frank "Dutch" Nighbor, present manager of the Buffalo Bisons, is a wide swing which often attains a radius of 18 feet. It harasses not only the puck carrier, but the wing men who may be in a position to receive a pass.

The hook check has been made of late years by players on their knees. It rather tends to slow up the game. Nighbor is through as an active player, so is Jack Walker who is credited with its invention. "Hooley" Smith is adept at the sweeping check, but the best in the business today is "Pit" Lepine of the Canadiens. When he sets himself out to play a straight defensive game, Lepine is almost impossible to pass.

Obviously this exact tactic no longer is in practice. Perhaps it is because of rules permitting forward passing or the increasingly common practice of the saucer pass. Essentially what the early stars such as Walker, Nighbor, Smith and Lepine did was their own version of the neutral zone trap.

No comments: